Tuesday 20 August 2019

Turkmen leader returns from 'Gates of Hell'

Turkmenistan's President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Photo: David Mdzinarishvili/File Photo
Turkmenistan's President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Photo: David Mdzinarishvili/File Photo

Alec Luhn

State television in Turkmenistan has shown the country's eccentric president driving near a flaming gas crater in the first footage of him since rumours of his death.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who last appeared in public on July 5, was shown behind the wheel of a rally car streaking through the desert of the gas-producing former Soviet republic near Iran and Afghanistan.

The car was then seen spinning in the dust and driving circles around the Gates of Hell, a 65 metre wide collapsed natural gas field which has been burning since 1971.

The daring exploit was the culmination of 28 minutes of vainglorious footage which also showed the dictator riding a horse and a bicycle, singing, showing government ministers how to lift weights and apparently shooting bullseyes in a target with an assault rifle.

He appeared to roll three strikes in a row while bowling with the mayor of Ashgabat, the capital, although cutaway edits made it impossible to tell how many he achieved.

Mr Berdymukhamedov's overblown TV antics with fast cars and high-powered firearms are such a fixture of the media that any undue absence causes confusion and gossip.

They distract from the dire economic performance of Turkmenistan, which is suffering hyperinflation and food shortages.

The presidential press service announced last month that Mr Berdymukhamedov was on a month's holiday and published a video of him playing with cats and his grandchildren.

Less than a week later, rumours began on social media that he had died of liver failure.

Irish Independent

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